The training camp crush

The curtain finally parted Friday morning on the summer version of the 2006 49ers, and here's what was seen, heard and contemplated while looking here, there and everywhere during the opening day of training camp at team headquarters.

The big news was getting rookie tight end Vernon Davis, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft, under contract before the start of Friday's first practice, making it the fourth consecutive year the 49ers have all their draft picks signed before the start of training camp. With a five-year deal that will reap as much as $25 million, Davis instantly becomes the highest-paid tight end in the NFL before taking his first NFL snap. "Money's all relative," coach Mike Nolan said. "It changes so quickly. I just want to see him play well. After the season, you can kind of talk more about bang for your buck."

Trent Dilfer, the 13th-year veteran quarterback now in tow to be the backup/mentor to Alex Smith, was flinging passes Friday morning wearing jersey No. 10 on his back. A few minutes after practice concluded, he was wearing No. 12 and rubbing elbows with former 49ers great John Brodie. The NFL's MVP in 1970, Brodie spent 17 years as a quarterback with the Niners, throwing for 31,548 yards, the No. 2 total in team history. Dilfer, who has an association with Brodie that goes back several years, will honor Brodie by wearing his No. 12 jersey, which was retired in 1973 and hasn't been worn by any 49er since. Brodie – who suffered a near-fatal stroke in 2000 that has left him with lingering speech and physical impediments – was on hand to give Dilfer his blessing, and Dilfer practiced in his new No. 12 jersey during the afternoon session. "It's probably the biggest honor of my career to this point," Dilfer said. "JB has been an incredible influence on my life. JB's had a huge influence on a lot of quarterbacks, and I'm just one of many. That's another reason for doing this – I really believe John should be in the Hall of Fame, and hopefully this will create some awareness of his career and how spectacular it was."

Several 49ers shined on opening day, but diminutive rookie receiver Brandon Williams played particularly big and made several outstanding catches during 7-on-7 and team drills. His best grab in the morning was a lunging one-handed snare along the sideline in which he lifted himself off the ground to pinch the ball out of the air. In the afternoon, Williams vaulted his 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame high in the air to make a fingertips grab between two defenders. Quick and shifty, Williams can get open and goes after passes relentlessly. "He was aggressive in the team periods trying to get the ball," Nolan said of the team's third-round draft pick. "He was aggressive also returning (punts). If you watch him on the punts, he's the same way." Williams, who may have the inside track on punt returning duties this season, also looked smooth and sure circling beneath punts during the afternoon session.

Morning session: Smith threw high and behind tight end Eric Johnson, who tipped the ball into the air, and safety Mike Adams swooped in for an interception and ran it back about 25 yards into the end zone.
Afternoon session: Antonio Bryant, who continues to look like the No. 1 receiver he's supposed to be and the 49ers need him to be, got behind cornerback Derrick Johnson down the left sideline and made a spectacular diving grab over Johnson.

--- The 49ers' new synthetic-turf field at team headquarters looks like a million bucks, which is just about what it cost. The thing absolutely sparkles, and it will come in handy when the Bay Area fall and winter moves in, which seems far away at this point with the heat wave that's recently hit the area.
--- Eric Johnson began camp by dropping balls he never used to drop during his 82-catch season in 2004, the last time he stepped on the field with the Niners. After missing the entire 2005 season with a foot injury, it's going to take some time for Johnson to get those hands back in quality working order.
--- Derrick Hamilton, after missing the 2005 season with a knee injury, injured his hamstring in the afternoon practice and his status will be evaluated Saturday. The clock, most definitely, is ticking on this guy.
--- Smith threw a lot of pretty passes Friday. Unfortunately, several of them were caught by 49ers defenders.
--- Dilfer, who had clean-up knee surgery in February, made a rare excursion outside the pocket when a play broke down during team drills. Nobody is going to be calling him Mr. Mobility. "Not bad for a one-legged guy, huh?" Dilfer said. "It's something you have to do. I'll never make a living doing that, but I've always been able to do what I needed to. Even though I've had some injuries here the last few years, I think I still can move well enough to get out there and get a couple of first downs."
--- Chad Williams' reputation as a playmaker in the secondary looks well-deserved. He has a nose for the football.
--- Seeing Jeremy Newberry working with the second-team offense when he's ostensibly as healthy as he has been in several years just didn't look quite right. But it was great to see the two-time Pro Bowl center back in action, and he won't be down for long if his right knee holds up.
--- Frank Gore is going to be a linebacker's nightmare on swing passes this season. He took a dump-off throw during team drills, turned upfield, and without breaking stride broke off a stop-start double move that had defenders buckling in his path.
--- Maurice Hicks has some moves, too.
--- Terry Jackson still looks solid, but that might not be enough anymore with Gore, Hicks and third-rounder Michael Robinson around as his roster competition.
--- Big Isaac Sopoaga pushed Eric Heitmann back into the backfield during one-on-drills, making the 49ers' incumbent starting center look small.
--- Ronnie Fields blew by Heitmann later in the day, exhibiting speed and a quick step. Now what he needs is to show some power befitting of his 310 pounds.
--- Mean Larry Allen simply engulfs defenders when they run into him.
--- The pads aren't on yet, by Manny Lawson definitely is pure speed on the edge.
--- Lawson is light on his feet, but also a little light just above his feet. While he builds up his legs, he'll need to do his best to keep opposing blockers away from them.
--- He may be built like a fullback whom the 49ers are trying to convert to tight end, but Delani Walker looks every bit a smooth receiver when he's making his moves in the passing lanes.
--- Keith Lewis is ready to hit. He almost laid out Hicks during team drills when the latter attempted to bounce outside on a running play. Lewis also had a nice interception on a forced pass by Smith that Lewis took back to the house.

--- While Davis' big deal got all the hoopla, he wasn't the only rookie to finalize a new contract with the team Friday. Undrafted free agent David Dixon also made his deal official with the team, and all 86 players on San Francisco's summer roster now are under contract with the team.
--- Longshot kicker Luis Berlanga, from Monterrey, Mexico, was the only player on that 86-man roster that has not yet reported to camp. His arrival is delayed while he waits for his working visa.
--- A lot has been made about the mentor role Dilfer will play this year with Smith and the team's other relatively young quarterbacks. Dilfer summed up that role succinctly: "You pick your spots and you try to give them a lot of information with a few words," he said.
--- Defensive lineman Jerry DeLoach, the newest 49er who was signed as a free agent Thursday, settled the issue about his weight once and for all after his first practice with the team. "I'm about 319 right now," DeLoach said. "They got me in the media guide at 335. I don't know about that one."
--- With tackle Jonas Jennings and guard Larry Allen lining up together, San Francisco has some beef on the left side of its line like the 49ers have never seen before in team history.
--- It was Kwame Harris beginning training camp as the starting right tackle, in case anybody was wondering.
--- Shoulder problem? What shoulder problem? Jennings is putting the torn labrum that ended his 2005 season after three games behind him and says he won't be spending time worrying about his surgically-repaired shoulder. "There's no other way to test it but to play, and I've been playing," Jennings said. "I've been doing all the other things that all the other guys are doing, so I guess it's just as normal as can be. I feel good. Let's just keep it right there."
--- Every player in camp participated in the morning practice, but Nolan held out Dilfer, Newberry, receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Walt Harris and defensive end Bryant Young in the afternoon session. Newberry and Battle were held out partly due to reasons stemming from their knee injuries, but all five veterans can expect this to be their typical training camp regimen. "They'll go every day, but they'll go only once a day," Nolan said.
--- Besides Hamilton, the only other injury to come out of Friday's sessions was a rib contusion suffered by rookie tight end Onye Ibekwe. His condition will be updated Saturday.
--- Parting shot: "The first day went well," Davis said. "Guys are out here looking good and we can't do nothing but look forward to getting better. We still got a long ways to go, but we're going to get it done."

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